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Last Updated:  Monday, 7 April, 2003, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
'Chemical Ali' reported dead
Ali Hassan al-Majid
The discovery of the body sparked a new British offensive
British officials say they believe that General Ali Hassan al-Majid, the Iraqi commander better known as "Chemical Ali", has been killed in a coalition air strike in the southern city of Basra.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said he had "strong indications" that General Majid had died in a laser-guided munitions strike on his home, but added that there was no confirmation of the death.

The leadership is now gone in southern Iraq
Group Captain Al Lockwood

General Majid is Saddam Hussein's first cousin and the man who was entrusted with defending southern Iraq against invading coalition forces.

He was given the name "Chemical Ali" after a gas attack that killed thousands of Kurds in 1988.

Campaign against Kurds

Major Andrew Jackson of the 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment said the body thought to be General Majid had been found along with that of a bodyguard of the head of Iraqi intelligence services in Basra.

He said the discovery of the body was one of the reasons the British had decided to move infantry into Basra, because they hoped resistance might crumble with the top leadership gone.

Group Captain Al Lockwood, spokesman for British forces in the Gulf, said: "The regime is finished. It is over, and liberation is here. The leadership is now gone in southern Iraq."

General Majid, believed to be in his 50s, hailed like Saddam Hussein from the northern city of Tikrit, and was considered the leader's right-hand man.

He led the 1988 campaign against Kurds in northern Iraq in which whole villages were wiped out and an estimated 100,000 Kurds were killed.

His notoriety was assured when on 16 March, 1988, Iraqi jets swooped over the town of Halabja and for five hours sprayed the city with mustard gas and the nerve agents Tabun, Sarin and VX.

It is believed 5,000 people were killed.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a report this year, said General Majid was responsible for the deaths or disappearances of around 100,000 non-combatant Kurds.

In the years following, it is thought that General Majid's services were called upon to break the back of any uprising against his regime.

In 1991, he reportedly suppressed the Shiite Muslim uprising that erupted after then US President George Bush exhorted Iraqis to rid themselves of President Saddam Hussein in the wake of the first Gulf War.

The BBC's Martin Popplewell
"One of the most feared men in Iraq"

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